The Hamilton Spectator

Famines usually born of politics


There are three incipient famines in the world today, and politics is at the root of all of them. That’s not unusual, actually: Famines are almost always political events.

My family is descended from the Catholic Irish diaspora, and when I was a boy in Newfoundla­nd we would sometimes play the game of “potatoes and point” at the dinner table. We’d point at the potatoes (there was always a bowl of boiled potatoes with the main meal) and say “may I have a slice of beef” or “I’ll have some more carrots, please.”

It was a distant echo of the Irish famine of 1845-1852 that halved the country’s population. Potato blight killed the potatoes, but it was politics — an ideologica­lly driven British government that refused to interfere in the working of the free market by giving the starving Irish free food — that killed the people.

In order for a mere political decision to topple a country into famine, it has to be foodstress­ed already. But politics provides the final push: That’s what is really killing people today in Sudan, Gaza and Haiti.

The “politics” in question is generally a war of some sort — and in most cases the starvation is a byproduct of the war, not even the main event.

That is certainly the case in Sudan, the biggest of the current famines. According to the United Nation’s World Food Programme, nearly 18 million people in Sudan are facing “acute food insecurity” as a result of the civil war between two parts of the army that broke out in April 2023.

Haiti’s situation is much the same. The capital, Port-auPrince, has been overrun by armed gangs, and the gangs have taken control of the port and the roads to block food supplies from entering the city. Starving people provide excellent political leverage. Most of Port-au-Prince’s 1.4 million people are going without food for days at a time, but famine is probably several months away in most parts of the country.

The Gaza Strip is also clearly a man-made famine, in the sense that without the war it would not be happening. It was Hamas that started the war, and it undoubtedl­y intended to trigger a massively violent Israeli retaliatio­n. It would then use the Palestinia­n victims created by that response to further its own political agenda.

That’s standard guerrilla strategy, so the Israelis knew what Hamas wanted them to do. The fact that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) did it anyway was a deliberate decision by the Israeli government. So what did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government hope to gain from the destructio­n and the food blockade?

There is a deliberate food blockade, although Jerusalem denies it. Aerial photos from late last month show 2,000 trucks waiting to cross at Rafah. Most are still there now, containing enough food to feed everyone in Gaza. This is not Israeli incompeten­ce. It is policy.

There are already children dying of starvation every day in the northern Gaza Strip, and the consensus of the IPC (the major food aid organizati­ons) is that “Famine is imminent in the northern governorat­es of the Gaza Strip and projected to occur any time between midMarch and May 2024.”

Random airdrops of food and a new pier in a couple of months’ time will not prevent that outcome. So is the Israeli policy merely one of taking vengeance on the innocent, or is it intended to empty the Gaza Strip of Palestinia­ns?

I never thought I would write that sentence, not because I thought Israelis are more moral than other people but because I believed they were not stupid. There is nowhere else for those 2.4 million Palestinia­ns to go, and Israel’s allies, especially the United States, would never condone such an act of ethnic cleansing. But then again, I didn’t think that Putin’s regime would be stupid enough to invade Ukraine either.

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